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Past experience with ACL injury gives Jordan Morris confidence he’ll come back stronger

Morris says he’s not putting any pressure on himself to come back early.

Kayla Mehring / Sounder at Heart

While the problems Jordan Morris has faced in 2021 are certainly minor relative to those many of us have faced, it’s not hard to feel sympathy for him. Coming off his best professional season in which he contended for MVP and helped his team advance to MLS Cup, the Seattle native was poised to make a name for himself in Europe while bolstering his spot on the United States national team ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

Instead, after just five appearances and about 150 minutes of playing time while on loan with Swansea City of the English Championship, he suffered a torn ACL. It was almost exactly two years after he had previously torn his ACL — on the opposite knee — and set up the possibility that he’d have to sit out two full seasons in the prime of his career.

For most of the last six months, Morris has been quietly rehabbing away from cameras and attention. But he’s also been doing it in relative isolation, unable to lean on some of the more casual connections he’d normally make if not for the global pandemic.

More recently, though, Morris’ situation seems to be at a turning point. In recent weeks, he’s been a regular at Sounders training and has even started to participate in some drills with his teammates. Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer has even talked about the possibility of Morris returning in time to participate in the playoffs.

About a week ago, Morris got another boost to his morale. For the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, he was able to do some in-person activities with kids with diabetes. Morris, who has dealt with Type-1 diabetes since he was a child, has long made it a point to be the kind of role model he never really had while growing up, by doing meet-and-greets and hosting these camps.

When I talked to Morris shortly after this camp, he was clearly in a good mood but still open about the challenges that his year has thrown at him and what still lies ahead. While his experience with a prior ACL injury doesn’t make the physical part of recovery any easier, it does give him confidence that he can still come back an even better player. He also noted that seeing his teammates with the Sounders and USMNT succeed was satisfying yet difficult as he wants nothing more than to be able to join them.

The full interview can be heard here, but these were some of the other highlights:

On hosting his first camp since the start of Covid: “One of my favorite programs we do is after every game we bring a kid with diabetes and their family on the field, and it was great to meet kids from all over the country to have that experience. We weren’t able to do that and still haven’t been able to do that.

“When kids can come out and see others are going through the same thing, I think it’s super important. It was a little emotional to see that and after the year and a half we’ve had to be able to build that community again.”

On why he does the camps: “The main basis for starting this foundation was never having been able to talk to [pro athletes with diabetes] or meet them. I wanted to be able to do more, wanted to give kids a personal connection with me because I know that would have been super helpful for me as a kid.

“It puts things in perspective a bit. When you get wrapped up in all you do, I took a step back during the injury and there’s some really important things in life outside soccer. To do this work is great. Gives you something to focus on, something outside of soccer.”

Huddersfield Town v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Joe Prior/Visionhaus/Getty Images

On how this injury rehab is different from the last one: “It doesn’t make it easier at all — unfortunately, I’m experienced with it — but to know what I was going through from the beginning was a blessing and a curse.

“I knew what was ahead of me because it can be daunting and it’s a really hard road. But I also think the hardest part of getting through an ACL injury is the mental side of it — you grind through the physical stuff and so the biggest worry of the first one was I had no idea how I’d come back, if it was really going to affect me as a player and I came back a better player from it. The fact that I know I can do it, I am very confident that I’ll come back a better player after this one.”

On how his past experience affects this recovery: “It’s really difficult. When it first happened it was such terrible timing, having just gotten over there. I think the first thing that went through my head was ‘I can’t believe I have to do this again,’ and realizing how hard it was last time and knowing that I’d have to go through the same stuff was very, very devastating. That’s the negative side of it.

“But the positive side is ‘I’ve done it before.’ To know I can come back and I came back stronger; I feel like I’m working even harder and having that confidence in the back of my head is pushing me through. The harder part is I just miss playing more. I’ve missed two years now and I just miss playing and want to get back out there.”

On how his recovery compares to the last one: “I’m almost six months out from my surgery. Things are progressing really well. It’s hard to put a timeline on anything, but things are on track and we’ll see how the next couple of months play out.

“This one is a little different because it was more involved. I feel like I’m potentially ahead of where I was last time. There are different things I need to work on this time around because it’s a little different injury. It’s hard to compare them because some of the stuff I was struggling with last time I’m doing better with this time, but there are other things that I need to continue to work on. It’s hard to compare the two. I’m very happy with where I’m at.”

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

On if he’s targeting a return this season: “I would love to, but I know the first thing is getting it right. Having the goal to play is super important, so I definitely have the goal to play this year. It helps push me through and motivate me, but I think that having gone through this before is getting right and not rushing it. If down the line things don’t look as good I’m not going to push anything.”

On if he still wants to play overseas: “That’s a tough one to answer right now. In my one month there I was really enjoying myself. I was just really getting going coming out of our offseason. That’s one of the very, very frustrating parts about what happened.

“I really enjoyed myself, it was a great experience, but my only focus is getting back healthy, playing for the Sounders and seeing what the future holds. My only focus is on being here, getting back strong, and if I’m back helping the team win an MLS Cup.”

On what it’s like watching good friends Alex and Cristian Roldan playing for their national teams: “I’m proud of both of them. They’re my close friends. Alex getting the recognition he deserves is a really big deal.

“I’d be lying if I said not just seeing the roster but watching these games isn’t difficult. Just wanting to play, I miss being on the field. I’m a big supporter and I’m watching all these games, it’s amazing to see all this success the Sounders and US are having, but it’s hard to watch and hard to be injured because you’re just wanting to be out on the field with the team. I’m super proud of both those guys and have a lot of friends on the team and I’m excited to watch to seeing how things go.”

On the contact he’s had with the USMNT since his injury: “They’re great. Coaches are great. I’ve talked to them a few times and checked in a few times. It’s a really, really good staff.”

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